Anxiety and stress about returning to school is a normal emotion for young people but mental health experts are warning there is often a hidden victim – parents and carers.
Headspace community liaison officer Alison Filgate said the service often sees an increase in the number of young people seeking help for anxiety in the weeks leading up and into term one.
However there are a number of practical things families can do to ensure young people are managing their anxiety and have a seamless transition to the school year.
MANAGE YOUR OWN STRESS
Ms Filgate said the number one thing that would impact on the stress levels of a child was the reaction of their parent or carer.
“Parents and carers need to lessen their own stress, because if they don’t the stress will spill over onto their child,” she said.
Stress and anxiety over school is a common emotion for parents and carers, particularly those who are watching their children start school for the first time.
“It’s a huge thing, often these parents have had the kids at home for a few years and then to have all children at school, it leaves this huge void, she said.
Ms Filgate said while showing emotion is encouraged, it is important children know they are supported by their parents and carers in taking the new step of going to school.
“Every person reacts to this slightly differently,” Ms Filgate said.
However, she said it was important parents and carers took steps to fill the void left by children who are no longer at home.
Becoming part of the school community by volunteering at the canteen or at events is one way to fill that void; as is participating in sport.
“Do something for you that you haven’t been able to do,” Ms Filgate said.
It is natural for children to be worried about attempting new things and, with a little support, most of them adapt pretty quickly.Psychologist Lesley Fraser
ROUTINES AND REPETITION
An important way to help mitigate any stress and anxiety in a child or young person is about removing the fear of the unknown and creating familiarity.
Tasmanian School Psychology Association president Lesley Fraser said parents and carers should look to familiarising their child with their school and their new routines.
“It is natural for children to be worried about attempting new things and, with a little support, most of them adapt pretty quickly,” she said.
However, some are more anxious than others, and might need a little bit of an extra helping hand.
Ms Fraser said ensuring children knew where their classroom was and where the toilets were, as well as small things like making sure they knew how to open their lunchbox and drink bottle would all help to alleviate that anxiety.
“Talk your child through the morning routine and don’t prolong leaving because this will make your child think you are worried about leaving them,” she said.
Ms Filgate said now was the time to enact new morning routines to make sure young people know their new bedtimes and wake up times, along with how they will get to and from school.
“Take them to the bus stop, make sure they know how to pay for their ticket and let them know how they will get to and from school,” she said.
DO’S AND DONT’S FOR THE FIRST DAY
TALK IT OUT
Ms Filgate said it was integral parents and carers took the time to talk with their child about their return to school or their first day of school.
"They may be nervous about a new school or a new teacher,” she said.
“You need to have the conversation about their support network; their friends and their teachers.”
Ms Fraser said talking positively about school will also help children to have a positive association.
“Encourage your child to think positively about going to school,” she said.
“If they are not coping with leaving you, set up smalll goals and praise them for achieving them – such as getting out of the car without crying, walking through the gate ahead of you or opening the school door themselves.”
Slow breathing exercises can also help an anxious child calm themselves before going to school.
Tasmanian students return to school on February 6, with teachers returning on February 4.
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